I AM Presents… MY WARRIOR SISTER ~ KAREN!
Here at I AM, it is important that we choose and shape our own narrative as well as empower others to do the same. By “we,” I AM is referring to those who have been impacted by mass incarceration. Through the My Warrior Sister project, we are here to introduce you to some powerful and amazing women who have sat in holding cells, who have endured degradation in the name of “justice,” who survived years without family, and who have come home in spite of the challenges that were faced in gaining freedom. They are now thriving in a society that has forgotten and exiled them.
It is our hope that through these shared experiences, you will begin to see our warrior sisters for the beautiful souls they truly are and not the person they once were nor the crimes they committed. Maybe then, the human collective can come together and begin to understand one another. And in understanding one another, we’ll be able to move away from cages, labels, segregation, racism, degradation, marginalization, and hate; moving in the direction of compassion and change.
Today, our featured warrior sister is someone who is humble and kind. In addition to being a person who held tightly to her spirituality while incarcerated, she also chose to love and support her comrades rather than diminish or forget them. This is my warrior sister Karen.
Karen walked into MCI-Framingham at 53 years old, sentenced to serve a 5-7 year sentence. She described her experience from the perspective of an older woman who has lived, built a life, had children and grandchildren but lost all that once she entered the prison system.
“Prison was a different world. The adjustment period for an older first-time offender was horrible. I trusted so many and was burnt many times. Eventually, I had to make my own way and do what I needed to do to make it. My biggest challenge was staying positive in a place where we are treated less humanely than animals. I had days where I felt useless and worthless. My life before incarceration started looking like it had been a dream. Those white brick walls were in my dreams at night as well as being my reality during the day. I saw and heard things that sickened me and I finally realized just how corrupt this system was from arrest to release. It is all about politics and greed. And I felt like I could never be truly happy again.”
We wanted to know how prison changed Karen and she simply and profoundly replied, “Prison changes everybody. I feel it helped me grow. To see things as they really are. I am less apt to trust people, but my faith in God gets me through my toughest days.”
Family is a very big part of Karen’s life. We know that families and loved ones suffer when they have an incarcerated loved one. Because of the stigma and shame associated with having a loved one incarcerated, our loved ones suffer in silence. In talking about family, this is what Karen shared:
“Prison actually brought my family closer together, but my family missed me as I was the glue that held us all together. I remember the day after my first Christmas, my husband told me how hard it was to see my empty chair at Christmas dinner. Our families are in their own prison when we aren’t there.”
Karen tells us her process in coming home:
“I have been home for 18 months. My biggest challenge being home is still reacclimating myself to myself. The old me used to be very passive and laid back. I am more vigilant now in everything I do. Leaving the past behind is easier said than done, and I am working on that even today.”
“I left prison and did well for about five weeks. Then, one morning I woke up feeling utter dread. I wasn’t happy, all I did was cry. I distanced myself from everybody. I finally reached out to a therapist and was diagnosed with severe PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I couldn’t sleep more than three hours a night. I was always in a state of anxiousness. Even though I came home to a loving family and supportive friends, I felt like I didn’t belong, like I didn’t fit in anymore. My life had changed and I was alone with my fears. My biggest challenge was finding ME again. We tend to withdraw into ourselves while incarcerated. When we are released to a world we no longer recognize, it can be a real struggle to just get through the day.”
Finally, we asked Karen why she agreed to do this interview and she responded in true warrior fashion:
“Because I met so many women who truly didn’t belong there. This judicial system is so broken. It will take a major overhaul to fix it. But change begins with a whisper. Our whispering days are gone. It is now time to roar. In order to end mass incarceration, people need to be looked at as individuals… not a charge, Find out why their lives may have taken a wrong turn… Open people’s eyes.”
This is my Warrior Sister ~ KAREN
Jasmin Borges & Brashani Reece